Companies busy with last minute DST fixes


As the earlier-than-usual start of daylight-saving time (DST) on Sunday draws ever closer, many of the attendees at Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Palm Desert, California, said Monday that their companies are still waist-deep in last-minute patching and testing of systems.

In an informal electronic poll that was conducted during one of the conference sessions, only 52 percent of the 327 respondents said they had completed all of their preparations for the time change. Thirty-nine percent said they’re still in the midst of DST remediation work, while 4 percent said they haven’t even started yet. And another 4 percent said they weren’t even aware that clocks will be turned one hour ahead this weekend, potentially causing problems for time-sensitive applications.

Debra Maudal, director of management information systems at Horiba ABX Diagnostics Inc. in Irvine, Calif., said in an interview that her IT team deployed software patches a month ago for most of the medical instrument maker’s systems. But work is still being completed on updates to Notes to fix an ongoing calendaring problem with the application, which Horiba ABX runs on Windows 2000 Server.

The problem, Maudal said, is that an earlier patch automatically but erroneously re-sent notices to the company’s 105 users giving details about meetings scheduled through Notes. She added that the notices have caused havoc and confusion about meeting schedules after March 11, the date that DST takes effect this year.

“We’re working with Lotus to be sure that we get the right patch or update, and then we’ll test it before launch,” Maudal said. “I would think that if we didn’t do this that our help desk [phones] would be ringing off the hook on Monday morning.”

DST, which previously began during the first weekend in April, will take effect at 2 a.m. next Sunday this year. That means many IT systems have to be updated or modified to reflect the proper time for applications that rely on time stamps, as well as for tasks such as scheduling. Many companies didn’t begin the problem until the last few months — or even the last few weeks.

Ronald Mitchell, vice president of IT at Ventura Foods LLC in Brea, Calif., said his company has completed most of its DST work but is waiting for one final patch from Microsoft Corp. to resolve some lingering incompatibilities with Outlook. For safety’s sake, Microsoft has recommended that the food maker manually correct the software instead of applying automatic patches, Mitchell noted. “Microsoft told us that the patch will work but that they are still unsure of unintended problems with other applications,” he said.

Ventura Foods, whose products include the Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing line, doesn’t use a lot of scheduling applications for its 1,200 users. But the sales force does depend on the accuracy of the calendaring capabilities in Outlook, Mitchell said.

Kevin Granhold, director of data center operations and support services at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said the patching process has been beset with complications for his IT staff.

“You load patches, and they create problems with our PeopleSoft applications,” he said. “We’ve been working on it for the last two months with significant resources — 60 percent to 70 percent of our time. It affects everything.”

The centre’s IT team recently completed patching the calendaring capabilities in Exchange 2003 Server for some 10,000 users. “We’ll be ready,” Granhold said. “It was just a lot of work addressing the calendaring issue.”

But, he added, “there may be a few things we’ve forgotten” across the center’s IT infrastructure. In fact, Granhold has thought of new things to check since he arrived at the conference. For example, he realized that the IT staff still needs to evaluate software that controls transfer switches for backup emergency generators as part of a monthly maintenance and testing schedule.

“Those timers in there, if you don’t set them for DST, they’re going to start [one hour later],” Granhold said. “We’ll have to get that addressed.”

On the other hand, Andres Carvallo, CIO at Austin Energy, said the Texas-based power company pushed out all required DST system patches this past weekend and has finished all of its testing work.

Using a carefully planned and orchestrated deployment plan, Austin Energy began working on the DST problem back in December. “The big key is the communications and the steps you have to do,” Carvallo said. “There are a few things we had to coordinate with the vendors. A lot of the vendors weren’t ready with the patches.”

One big advantage for Austin Energy is that the company keeps a detailed catalog of the applications it uses, including the software versions, their vendors and other pertinent information, Carvallo said. It also held weekly operational reviews every Monday to monitor the patching schedule and overall progress of the DST project, he said, adding, “For us, it was painless.”

Additional reading:

Clock Ticking for IT with Daylight Saving Time Shift


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